5Qs with Sydney L. Ross, co-founder of The Garden Party Foundation and owner of Great Lakes Wine and Spirits in Highland Park


Sydney L. Ross, owner of Great Lakes Wine and Spirits in Highland Park and co-founder of The Garden Party Foundation with his wife, Elizabeth, spoke with DBusiness Daily News about The Garden Party, a fundraiser for Oakland Community College’s trade school program. The event, to be held on Sunday, June 11, at Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester Hills, offers a strolling dining experience featuring more than 30 of the region’s top restaurants, 100 different wines, live music, and a display of classic cars and muscle cars.

1. DDN: What’s new for this year’s Garden Party?
SR: For the first time, we elected to go with one college to support, which is Oakland Community College’s trade school program. Traditionally, we focused on the culinary school, and we supported two different programs, but we took a closer look at everything and determined it was more beneficial all the way around to support OCC’s trade school, which includes culinary arts, criminal justice, automobile servicing, electrical trades, fire fighting technology, and machine tool technology. The skilled trades are so important to the growth of our region, state, and nation, and we’re happy to support them.

2. DDN: How do you source the food and wine?
SR: We have the event down to a science. Along with the classic cars, the music, and the great food and wine, we have a very good working relationship with the restaurants. We have a whole team of restaurant management people on staff that understands the food and wine industry. After each Garden Party, we brainstorm and do a debriefing about how we can improve things for the following year. I give credit to the restaurants, because Sunday is usually a day off so it’s expensive to pay the staffs to be at Meadow Brook Hall. We try to mix up the restaurants every year because we respect what they do and don’t want to burden them, but so many of the restaurants want to come back every year to support this great cause.

3. DDN: Who are some of the restaurants you are working with?
SR: All of the restaurants are great partners. We have Bill Roberts with his Roberts Restaurant Group (Town Tavern, Bill’s, Streetside Seafood, Café ML, Roadside B&G, and Beverly Hills Grill), Joe and Rosalie Vicari with Andiamo Restaurant Group and Joe Muer’s, The Epicurean Group, Kruse and Muer, Red Coat Tavern, and many others. Because we are a large wholesaler, we have a very good selection of wines across the board. We also have supplier partners donate wine, which is something they don’t due too much of. We will have close to 100 wines from places like Celani Family Vineyards, and the wines include reds, whites, roses, and sparklings.

4. DDN: What is the crowd like?
SR: We draw up to 700 people each year, and while quite a number of charity events are attended by older people, we place a good deal of emphasis on drawing a diverse crowd. For any foundation to survive long term, you really have to open the doors to younger people. So when you come to The Garden Party, you’re going to find Millennials represent half of the crowd. And we encourage all of the ladies to wear hats. The attire is Garden Party chic, and everything is inside a very large tent while the cars are on display outside.

5. DDN: Are you hosting a Garden Party up north, as well?
SR: Yes, last year we started The Garden Party Northern Michigan, where we raised $60,000 for the trade program at North Central Michigan College. This year, it will be held on Sunday, Aug. 11, at the Harris Garden on the campus of North Central Michigan College in Petoskey. This year we hope to raise $100,000 up north, and more than $130,000 at Meadow Brook Hall, which is what we raised last year. What’s cool is over nine years of hosting this event; we have raised more than $1 million for charities. We appreciate the support of all of the sponsors, donors, restaurants, winemakers, and distributors. This is a cause with a happy ending. All of the students we support become self sufficient and go on to do amazing work.

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